Skip to main content
5:00 pm
social media sites. >> next, kevin matson recounts the presidential election of 1952 and richard nixon's "checkers" speech delivered on national television on september 23rd, 1952. the speech was given in response to allegations that nixon miss use political donations. the author recounts nixon's usage of the family dog checkers to denote his everyman status and saves his vice-presidential nomination. this program is about an hour. >> before we begin it is okay to come up closer to church, synagogue or a moth. i am pleased that our friends from c-span are here, so this will be broadcast at some point suitor than later and they always do a great job and want
5:01 pm
to welcome c-span again to politics and prose. it has added to c-span has added to our civil discourse and whatever bookstores you come to they are generally independent fast and c-span is really wonderful. i want to welcome tonight at 18. we are celebrating the publication of his book "just plain dick". how many of you were around when the "checkers" speech was given? i am sure many people in the audience tonight will also the -- and statistically appropriate that this is the night before an
5:02 pm
election and this book is about the 1952 election and the context of the election, and kevin matson will tell us about it but there's a nice tradition in politics and prose of having wonderful stuff the night before the election. we were talking 12 years ago was the discussion of arguing the world which was the discussion with daniel bell or crystal irving, four years ago we had a new york review book and some of the contributors, jonathan friedman and others were talking about the problems whoever the new president was likely to face and anticipating an obama when that night there was precedence about the use of the filibuster
5:03 pm
to block consideration of a things so tonight we will get some historic perspective. i have had the good fortune to read a lot of kevin matson's book that he is a wonderful historian of postwar liberalism. he tells it in ways that are very perceptive. he avoids fashionable trends to make sure he gets underneath fans. he is not a revisionist. and he writes about other periods as well including participatory democracy and the progressive era and upton sinclair, many of you have read the jumble, we are all too young
5:04 pm
to remember end poverty in california. fourth after the gubernatorial campaign but kevin provides a rich, rich history of 20th century american history in the context of our larger scheme of things. so let's welcome kevin matson and "just plain dick". [applause] >> thanks for that wonderful introduction. always a pleasure to be at politics and prose, one of my favorite places to be. what i will do is talk for a while and obviously be eager to entertain questions that you might have about the book and its relationship to contemporary politics. what brought me to write this book is are always heard the term "checkers" throughout my life, "checkers" will direct it
5:05 pm
to the speech and are wanted to understand what that meant, and its origins and also put it in a biter context. that is what it began with. in some ways, one of the most important speeches in postwar american history and certainly have a lot to do with explaining the rise to influence of richard nixon and that in and of itself tells us it had a lot to do with a lot about contemporary american politics because of nixon's influence on contemporary american culture. what i really want to do is write history in the form of a novel. all the characters are real, the events are real, there's nothing fictionalize but i wanted to tell it from a novelist's perspective. it has at its center a mad man. i originally wanted to have mad mad in the tunnel for the subtitle of the book. my editor from on that.
5:06 pm
i am using the term not the way nixon will later use it to describe his foreign policy but in a way that holden caulfield described himself in the classic novel capturing the right which documents itself a kind of progression towards nervous breakdown. richard nixon is undergoing a nervous breakdown during the story. he is thinking of himself in that sense of being mad and all the connotation that term has and he knows he is on the cusp of making or breaking his national political career. moment when he rescues his political career from that moment onward. they're the noir feeling to the book to large extent and that has to do with the subject matter. richard nixon is a noir character, kind of dark in terms of his own psychology and i also wanted to tell a suspense story, trying to write history as a novelist would ideally do. there's a tight internal structure to the book.
5:07 pm
it is kind of a slice of history looking at a moment. it starts with nixon's rise to national popularity, eventually being put on the ticket during spring of 1952, it follows the conventions of the summer, these conventions, one of the last set of conventions where things were determined during a convention even though television is starting to take over conventions and conventions are starting to become more scripted there is a series of political decisionmaking going on. i go into the scandal in september that becomes the basis for why nixon has to give this speech and obviously the speech itself is the culmination of the book or at least a high point of the book because the book also follows out the election itself which as some of you probably know was a landslide election for the republican party in 1952, clearly of trans formative
5:08 pm
election where the republicans seized the presidency which they hadn't had in quite some time. nixon undergo the transformation throughout the story. he begins as a kind of nervous what are called inside dope, using a term a sociologist calling, trying to navigate his way in national politics. he moves from being a nervous person approaching a nervous breakdown to becoming a kind of supreme confidence man, feels confidence in his own salesmanship of politics. has call ideally good novels have, this has a great set of secondary characters. nixon is enough to sustain a book but there are also some wonderful secondary characters. obviously dwight eisenhower himself who comes off as a sad and tragic figure in this book. he starts off as the kind of general on a white horse to comes back to redeem the republic and slap back corruption of the truman
5:09 pm
administration and return the republic to its ideal values but also someone who just winds up going further and further to the right and placating the right within his own party and be trading some of his own political principles. the relationship between nixon and eisenhower is a curious one and has a father/suns for development and almost oedipal struggle going on. a lot of pundits and to the book including walter that men and joe alsop who hoped eisenhower will be more what eisenhower actually has become. there is pat nixon. pat nixon is up from to dick nixon literally during the speech he is sitting watching him nervously not sure what he is going to be saying that. she is crucial to the strategy of making her husband into a normal looking guy. she writes a slew of articles where she talks about her being a normal suburban housewife. there is also a fascinating
5:10 pm
thing about pat nixon, she is weirdly open about the fact that she doesn't seem to like politics and seems to even have some trepidation about being with her husband. she writes an article for her husband with the title a wonderful guy in which he has a quote i make a lot of which is dick doesn't do anything in a half-hearted manner. i know we are in for a rugged time. this isn't a peace that is supposedly a celebration of her husband's and virtues and she is saying she is worried about him, about what her life is going to be and things like that. you get a real sense that with both eisenhower and at nixon that politics transforms people in ways they don't necessarily want. another character is joseph mccarthy who is running for reelection. is a tough man veneer, sort of macho character he projects is also one that in some ways
5:11 pm
richard nixon wants to a certain extent mimic and imbibers as his own. during this campaign joseph mccarthy makes one of the most vicious and i think in some ways it is a vicious election, that is a big part of the story but mccarty actually during the 1952 election that he makes -- comes up with this amazing quote, if somebody will only smuggle me aboard the democratic campaign special with a baseball bat in my hand, i would teach patriotism to little adlai. that is what he called that my stevenson. sometimes he calls him alger with the idea he is like alger hiss, a communist spy at the time. there's also whitaker chambers and norman vincent peale the great american theologian who helped to advise nixon about in some ways his political
5:12 pm
philosophy. behind-the-scenes guys who are giving advice to richard nixon to go straight to the media to engage in what we would call populism and also surprise cameo of charlie chaplin who is booted out of the country in 1952 as part of the red scare. nixon wanted to boot him out of the country and is taking his cues from a wild off columnist who is a friend of nixon who enters a little bit. there is obviously another central character, but foil to richard nixon and why eisenhower and that is adlai stevenson who is important because he is the opponent. stevenson becomes throughout the course of the story a day, that is worth some use, egghead, intellectual who is entering politics. that is a noble vision of politics. anyone who hears these words will be surprised by them.
5:13 pm
in his acceptance speech in 1952 convention he talks to his fellow democrats and says we shouldn't just worry about winning the election, we should worry how it is won. how we can take advantage. how well we can take advantage of the great quadrennial opportunity to debate issues sensibly and soberly. better we lose the election and mislead the people. time to talk sense to the american people. noble lav all get out but kind of sending a soft ball across richard nixon and dwight eisenhower's plate instead taken knockout of the park which they do. this is the campaign in which adlai stevenson, democratic presidential candidate shot from the low on stage and there's a hole in his shoe and there's grand speculation as to what this means. he is a guy who never gets control of the situation and of course in the end loses. the book is written like a novel
5:14 pm
with these characters who winter in and out with a central character who is undergoing a nervous breakdown. i do make a fair amount of richard nixon's psychology. i know that is not fashionable to psychologize a character but it is richard nixon. if anybody deserves to be psychologized is richard nixon and i open the book by trying to imagine myself getting inside the mind of richard nixon. during this campaign. i will read you one paragraph of the opening. this is where i am trying to say this is what it would have been like if you could read his brain waves in 1952. i try to put myself in his mind set. a lot of what he has experienced, a career crisis. anyone who has had a career crisis can do some method acting and get into what it must of been like for this young man on the rise. here is the purse paragraph of my imagined internal merrill log, the bastards want me out, they want to sack my political career, they don't have much on me but they will use when they have. that is how they played,
5:15 pm
smuggles and smear boys in the political press. i'm something in the chair on my train just rattling along the heading out of california, my first date for the center of oregon and all i'm hearing from that fat little man who bubbles with fine political advice and fumes about my enemies is the press boys are going wild with this thing. i can feel my eyes glancing at the headline in the left-wing smeared sheet the new york post, secret ridge man's trust fund keep nixon in style far beyond his salary, that was one bastard of a headline. that in many ways is the point at which the crisis is instigated. i am trying to get into the mindset of richard nixon and tell the story in part through his eyes and his own experience and to a certain extent being for the guy who is having a nervous breakdown and career killing moment in what he takes to be a very important -- we all take to be a very important political career. i wanted to use the novelistic approach but i also wanted to
5:16 pm
have big themes by telling this story and what i figured i would do now is just kind of tell you about some of those big seams of interest to people who go to places like politics and prose and are interested in broad debate about politics and ideas. it is very clear, i assume that this speech that nixon gives and this moment in american history has a lot to tell the contemporary political world. one thing to keep in mind about the "checkers" speech is nixon will be asked later in life what do you think about the "checkers" speech? people still remember you by the "checkers" speech even m.e. grenander your presidency has waned and he always said the "checkers" speech was my moment. it was make or break. i came through the other side of that speech and i failed my entire political career would have been ruined.
5:17 pm
i would not be on the national political stage. some of us would say oh well. it is a crucial moment in his career and an important crucial moment in america's history. the big themes that you see in the speech and the broader story working through the election are kind of i think of four that i will be focusing on. i will be brief on each of them to give enough time for questions. first off, the obvious background of the cold war and a new style of conservative vision of foreign policy that i will explain. directly related to that, there is an enormous divide within the republican party in 1952. that shouldn't surprise any of us obviously. this is always a very divided party the tensions within the republican party that the speech and election point to are important. the third thing that i think is perhaps most important is the american tradition of populism for and what richard nixon is
5:18 pm
doing to the populist tradition in this speech and for what the election and the fourth and final thing is the style of politics nixon developed. the subtitle of the book is about the rocking, socking the election of 1952 and that is nixon's conception of politics, it should be about a fight, being tough. that has a long lingering impact on the way we think about politics today. let me go through these four issues briefly and elaborate on each of them. with the cold war, there is an obvious background that is going on throughout the book and the obvious thing that is happening is we're in the midst of the korean war and the korean war is a war that by this point in time is two years old and doesn't seem to have an end in sight and the body count is going up and it is one of many reasons harry truman is not very popular president as he is leaving the white house or planning to leave the white house. white eisenhower, during the
5:19 pm
election, during his campaign, will make a famous statement in which he said i will go to korea and most people think that is what pushes the election in the direction that he definitely had its own up by the time that he uses these words. it is kind of similar to what nixon will later do which is in '68, i have a secret plan to end the vietnam war. dwight eisenhower did not have anything in mind that the than to say i will go to korea, i will settle the war, you don't have to worry about the wartime elected president. does have a lot of good but there's a huge debate going on about how to fight the cold war that this book examines throughout the course of this collect oral cycle. i don't deal much with vote liberal containment side of this vision that adlai stevenson or dean acheson. that is not as prominent in this book. i am more interested in the hyper charged emotional and some that is brought to foreign policy and the way they
5:20 pm
centralize fighting the cold war. you hear this sort of hyper charge the emotionalism throughout stories that i tell in this book. mostly when richard nixon is consistently attacking dean acheson and adlai stevenson. you hear a lot about rollback and liberation. these are the big key words in a lot of republican conservative republican discourse about foreign policy and in fact dwight eisenhower uses the term a crusade throughout the campaign and some people start thinking is he alluding to those things like a crusades? is that the way he is conceptualize in his view of foreign policy? to a certain extent yes but he is trying to tack to the center. one of the key allies of richard nixon who gets discussed here because his big book comes out during spring of 1952 is whitaker chambers who writes a very melodramatic memoir witness, that is published in 1952 and richard nixon does
5:21 pm
great deal when richard nixon was taking down alger hiss, whitaker chambers was the key person providing testimony to take down alger hiss and nixon does a lot to promote whitaker chambers's book and it is interesting to note how chambers conceptualizes the cold war in witness that comes out in 1952. i will quote from the book. for chambers the west had to discover, quote, in suffering and pain, a power of faith which will provide man's mind at the same intensity and the same two certainty is that communism provided. a reason to live and the reason to die. if it fails, if the west fails, this will be the century of the great social wars. if it succeeds this will be the century of the great wars of faith. there is a real attempt to put the cold war on to a religious basis, on to an emotional basis and that is something richard nixon is very big on in terms of
5:22 pm
his support of whitaker chambers and his attacks on stevenson and acheson and articulated by mccarthy, one of those other characters i bring into this narrative who is also chief ally of richard nixon's and who eisenhower feels uncomfortable and on order round and will go to wisconsin and campaign with mccarty, very willing to do something people thought of as being below him. what you get from mccarthy is the way you fight matters more than the fight itself or because it's all. the style in which you fight matters agreed deal. you want to hit your enemy hard. one of the things i make a fair amount out of in the book, i am a historian who likes to go -- i guess i am something of a political historian but also interested in pop culture and the way pop culture comes into our politics. one of the chief people i deal with to tease out this
5:23 pm
emotionally charged tough vision of fighting the cold war is john wayne. john wayne those independent in 1952, breaks from the studio system and makes his very own film. has anyone seen big jim mclean? it is a great movie to see and in fact if you have time tonight if you go to youtube and put into the box john wayne beats up commies you will get the final scene of big jim mclean and you can watch it because it is an enjoyable moments. what the story line which comes out in the time the election is heating up and by the way john wayne is a political character, he is very big in the reelect mccarty movement. he is also asked after the convention what do you think about the ticket and mccarty says i think dick nixon will make a fine vice president.
5:24 pm
no mention of eisenhower because he doesn't really like eisenhower. that is joseph mccarthy obviously but that is the person that wayne is biggest in support of and big jim mclean is out in 1952, the story of a tough guy, big jim, constantly mentioned that he is 6 foot 3 or something throughout the movie on many occasions. he is working for the house un-american activities committee. this is big gym. big jim goes out to hawaii to break up a communist spy ring mostly made up of doctors in hawaii. in the end what he does is he finds where these guys are having a meeting and rushes into the meeting and beat the communists up using his fists in a big fight and what transpires is he follows the story are, they went back, testified and got off and he starts to say
5:25 pm
something along the lines that may be the constitution isn't all that great. maybe these congressional committees are now the right thing to do. maybe we should just bareknuckle it with communist. we need to have a few more fistfights and less congressional committees investigating and that style of politics, that gruff macho style in fighting the cold war that wayne personified explicitly, mccarthy in numerous ways, that richard nixon tries to take up and make a part of his own view of the cold war and in fact during when the first scandal breaks that richard nixon is getting money from these wealthy businessmen to fund his campaign, one of the first things richard nixon does is he said it is a communist plot. these are communist to are out to get me. if i went ahead hard i said they would come and get me they are coming back to get me. most people tried to encourage him not to take that tack because there is no basis for it
5:26 pm
but there are funny things during a protest, a young kid from your old organization, americans for democratic action goes to protest and holds up a sign that says edge, anyone who mentions the $16,000 is a communist. that is the tactic richard nixon takes. i thought some hard and they are coming back to get me. that explains why this scandal has emerged the way the scandal has emerged and yet you also notice if you follow richard nixon this is one of the things i got out of the archival research i did for this book, coming across a speech richard nixon makes in oregon after he had the "checkers" speech and are will get to that, when he is feeling strong about his standing, he goes to oregon and has this line in the speech that i don't think it's much treatment in other stories about the 1952 election. he is in oregon and make a wild
5:27 pm
speech. consider where we are in the pacific northwest. let me tell you that other koreans could come even closer. they could reach right into the country's heartland. they could bring the bombing and the carnage right here if our drift towards disaster isn't halted. lee dwight eisenhower could stop this obviously. only dwight eisenhower could stop the impending invasion by the mouth of the columbia river where one staged out of anchorage, alaska. this is a guy who at this moment is becoming increasingly paranoid about what is going on things that the invasion of the united states is imminent and is warning his listeners this could actually happen. this is the sort of fervid vision of the cold war that i keep trying to trace out by telling this story and is a long-lasting story. this is not a vision of foreign policy that has dropped out of the republican party by any means. anything i think it has gotten much stronger. there's also the struggle within the republican party. this is the second issue that i
5:28 pm
will talk about briefly. it is not just about the foreign policy debates which there are people trying to go towards a less militaristic vision of the cold war and a kind of center. it is also a real hard line right wing outlook within the republican party that is most clearly symbolized in robert taft's run for the presidency against eisenhower during the primary campaign. taft, as we all know, loses, but has interesting conversation he has with eisenhower after congratulating him on victory that the theme he wants eisenhower to pursue is liberty is being threatened by creeping socialism in every domestic field. there's a kind of totalitarianism that is invading american politics. eisenhower takes this language up much more than we really realize. is hard right strip the new deal
5:29 pm
because the new deal is interchangeable with a version of either socialism or totalitarianism. this becomes especially difficult, this hard-line language becomes especially difficult once nixon has to face up to the thing that gets him into trouble which is a problem we would put in the category of campaign finance problems, that he is taking money by people who have a direct interest in shaping american politics. but this tension within the republican party on foreign policy but also on domestic policy is a big part of the story. the biggest part of the story is the populist strain in american politics. this brings us to the heart of the speech and the speech is in so many ways about. as you all know, the "checkers" speech is synonymous with richard nixon saves time and every man, i am an ordinary guy. these of the lines we remember from the speech, the line's most people will quote back to you is
5:30 pm
the republican clock coat that his wife pat nixon war which meant he didn't have a mink coat which as an allusion to this idea that the truman administration was bribed by people bringing mink coats into the white house. i am and ordinary guy, packed with look wonderful in anything. a lot of the speech, some people remember it, sometimes it is hard to remember that a lot of it is just documenting what he has and what he possesses. ..
5:31 pm
one of you probably should tell you because of vita and they will be saying this about me too. man down in texas heard on the radio mention the fact that our youngsters would like to have a dog. believe it or not the day before he left it out of message from the union station in baltimore saying they had a package for us. we wound down to get it. it was a cocker spaniel dog in a crate sent all the way from texas, black-and-white spotted and her little girl tricia 6-year-old girl named him checkers. the kids love the dog and i want to say this right now there is this charlton heston among us all a regardless of what they say about it. that is of course the central thing that nixon talks about and what gets the name for the speech itself. nixon was very knowingly taking a line from fdr's famous speech and nixon thought it would be great to kind of like make the
5:32 pm
democrats mad by taking their great leaders onwards and flipping them around to defend himself in what nixon is doing throughout the speech is very clearly that he is divorcing the populist tradition which is rooted in the struggle in the late 19th century among small farmers, and trying to channel their hatred of banks and especially real estate people, who are kind of keeping the small guy down, keeping the small farmer in the state of being impressed -- oppressed. nixon has just been discovered he is getting money from real estate interests, from banking, from oil so what he does is very cleverly and i think with a great deal of success is that he makes populism into a style, almost a free flow style and about appearance and about who he is as a person, who he is as ownership. it's about cars, not about policy that would actually tame
5:33 pm
perhaps the things that the original populace wanted to do something about. p. is also good at tying this into his long-held kind of feeling of resentment. he hates -- what makes in western boy. he hates the fact that he didn't get a chance to go to an ivy league institution and he went to to a second-rate institution, that he wasn't part of the circles and he the also tie that into another heavy strand of anti-intellectualism. this term egghead is everywhere in 1952 ended many ways is attacked. what nixon is very good at is presenting himself as authentic and i know this is hard to believe that he really does come across with his speech, it's authentic and sincere, kind of frank capra type of populace, it's about me and who i am as a person. and it's fascinating because
5:34 pm
nixon as we all know was the person who was never comfortable in his skin. for nixon to come off as authentic, and believe me i read the telegrams and letter sent in after his speech, this is really how he is perceived and we are right to think about he captured my heart and he brought tears to my eyes. i knew he was true by watching them on television. this stuff is throughout the telegrams and throughout the letters that he gets. it's amazing that a guy like this could actually pull that off and he does very well and what's interesting also about this is that this whole notion of him being authentic is obviously all acted out on the stage set and a television studio. this whole notion of there being some sort of authentic person itself is already kind of viewed as having a sense of being staged. in fact "life" magazine wrote about if the checkers speech later in "life" magazine said it was almost as if the whole thing was scripted by hollywood, it was too good to be scripted by
5:35 pm
hollywood. it was too believable and it's really kind of a weird theme of him being authentic and yet also recognizing his authenticity is often staged for the hearts of americans. eisenhower afterwards said that dick nixon sees the hearts of americans in which he finally says yes and keeping as my vice president and you are wonderful guy. this is the whole idea of the telepopulace, not just to paint himself as an authentic sincere individual but he very knowledgeably goes around the media and gets a direct address to the american people and he is told very clearly by his advisers and he knows himself the media's going to kill you. if you let people come in and ask you questions and those are the snooty eastern journalist to come and ask questions, they are going to kill him. codirecting around those guys and that is what makes the discussion incredibly important and i think emotionally charged
5:36 pm
moment in political speech making. the final thing that i will talk about is just the style of politics that comes out after the speech of success and nixon continues to campaign. nixon had always wanted to run a campaign in a certain way and part of the story that i tell us how nixon basically says this is how we should run a campaign and eisenhower says i'm not sure i'm comfortable with all that inviting to the story of the story eisenhower is completely and absolutely take him at his word and wants to run a campaign similar to his. this is the way nixon originally envisions his campaign, writing. this is something i discovered as well, letter to a fund-raiser. a person who is helping to fund his campaign. this campaign, some people want this campaign to be conducted on a so called high intellectual plan. he says there is a republican desire to do that and i think it's actually a smack at adlai stevenson, that we should should let bygones be bygones and i
5:37 pm
point out the past mistakes of the truman administration. after all we have two good candidates for president. in short a little nice powder puff dual and that language, there is a lot of, i mean if you read a lot of the language in 1952, there is always this undertone of homosexuality in adlai stevenson, this notion that adlai stevenson was a divorced male and never got remarried, what's up with that? maybe doesn't really like the girls to much and that is what nixon constantly place up on. you don't want a nice powder puff between them. you want to give the american people a chance to make an intelligent choice based on discussion. richard nixon says believe me this is not going to be campaign. we are not going to run this nice campaign. hours will be straight from a shoulder language that any american can understand without bartlett scored haitians or webster's dictionary. no substitute for wisdom, we are going to have a tough campaign
5:38 pm
and it's going to be rock 'em sock 'em and one of the ways to see this is the conflict try to link up eisenhower nixon constantly try to link up their campaign to football. college football event going on eisenhower's there. there's a football event going on, nixon is going to be there. they love football and they love the metaphor that football plays in politics. it's right after nixon is given this speech and in which you now, eisenhower has said okay you are going to stay on and we are going to fight this together that nixon finally has this moment where he is sitting across from eisenhower in his car and he says to eisenhower after the speeches gone on and eisenhower has praised him, this is just like war general. her opponents losing. a a mounted massive attack and they have taken a bad beating. is at this moment that we fight and we go for the jugular. you don't let up. this is very much the kind of
5:39 pm
siloed campaigning the richard nixon he came known for throughout his political career, not just them. and in many ways this is a sort of thing i want to tease out what this book, to get at this sort of cultural vision of politics that richard nixon has and i think it's a culture, culture and political vision that we are still with today, the whole taking of populism and divorcing it from any sort of economic vision and making about a personality, about whether or not a person is likeable or an ordinary average american. this sort of divisive political campaigning where you're trying to draw at your opponent off the cliff is clearly still with us. is a form of politics that is codified in the checkers speech but something we are still living with today. that is what i wrote the book and again i try to write this in a way that tells it from the point of a person who is a historian but also someone is trying to write it any kind of
5:40 pm
hopefully entertaining sort of novelistic approach. that is where i will stop and i am sure, knowing the people here that there are some questions that you probably have of me and i am happy to take what you ask. [applause] thank you. >> you all want to take your courses. i wish they were by skype so that we could mix the politics and the culture. we are going to use the microphone which is over here. this is so the viewing audience can hear your question as well. these events are recorded here so people can -- who couldn't come tonight can also be able to get the benefit of the event. so, for those who have questions or a brief comment please go to the microphone and if you are comfortable, tell us your name.
5:41 pm
>> i have her request actually. more gap -- background on the scandal itself in the atmosphere and all the legal background of campaign finance at that time, and how the public felt in general about campaign finance and taking money, getting support, financial support from the people -- the rich people and the industries that you named. what was it like then? what was the responsibility of the presidential candidates then as far as to closing their sources and so forth? >> there is nothing -- nixon has lawyers look at what the fund was really about.
5:42 pm
it was contributing to it and how they contributed to it. whether or not there were any demands tied into their giving of money and the lawyers came up with -- and of course some of us being relatively finding that the lawyers were innocent and that is what they find. most of the laws about campaign finance were laws that of men passed in the progressive era and you know there wasn't a lot of attention paid to campaign finance. this kind of introduces the campaign finance question very quickly. i don't think there was anything illegal. i don't think it past the smell test. i think people looked at it suspiciously. by the letter of the law, that was clear and this is also one of the parts of the story that gets kind of messy that adlai stevenson have a fund that was somewhat similar to nixon's fund and once that emerges than nixon is taking money from rich guys
5:43 pm
and that they stick exception goes away. there was nothing legal by the letter of the law. it doesn't pass the smell test by most people and the question is, is nixon influenced? there are ways you can see some connections between those who are giving them him the money and the legislation that he had fought for a senator up until that point in time and in congress. there's clearly some sense that you have kind of pro-real estate anti-public housing policies that nixon was doing and that there were a lot of real estate men getting the money. my argument though is that i think nixon would have done those things without the money. i think this was a guy who is ideologically committed to stripping the new deal as much as he possibly could, and i think he would have done that without the money. at the way he was perceived at the time you know, i think it followed the kind of divisive nature of politics. there were a lot of liberals
5:44 pm
that showed nixon was corrupted he was taking kick backs. most americans when they are pulling him at this time, don't seem to the all that aware of what happens with this. they have some sense that there is money but there is not a really great detailed understanding. most of the legislation on the books is quite old but he is not ever found doing something that is you know it illegal or something that kicks them out of politics. [inaudible] what does he say? >> he doesn't. it's really amazing. the speech itself really is an amazing evasion of the original charges. it's a classic he lied and he doesn't really have anything much to say about the original charges that got him into trouble. so, he immediately kind of takes it and it and says okay you have
5:45 pm
heard these charges about how i am corrupt. in the beginning of the speech, again having -- too many times he gets really tripped up and starts saying yeah well if i did do that, it would be really bad and if someone took money that would mean they should be kicked out of politics and you start thinking, where is he going with this? he keeps kind of fumbling but he quickly goes into, and going to tell you something. i'm doing something that has never been done before. i'm going to show you what i have and i'm going to prove my -- and the charges are quickly jumped over and he is back into, i'm a popular man of the people sort of rhetoric that the speech presents. >> thank you. >> yeah, thanks. >> the campaign finance, i think it's fair to say that i wasn't much of an issue at that time, and there was not any -- the enforcement of campaign,
5:46 pm
whatever the campaign finance -- finance laws that existed, that didn't change until we had real disclosure beginning in the 1972 campaign in which nixon ended up violating the law and in all sorts of serious ways and tried to prevent disclosure that they had some responsibility for. so, what you had here was in the beginning, the secret contributions. no one knew who the 500-dollar limited contributions were. >> he does turn it over. >> he does been in the beginning he did not so he uses disclosure is the way of showing his innocence. >> that's right, yeah.
5:47 pm
>> they do -- he knows that he has got -- he first tries to say maybe we don't even need to tell people and his advisers say no, you are going to have to give a list and he gives a list and they all look like the type of people you would expect, bankers and real estate people and people like that, people who hated the new deal and wanted to do something about it. disclosure comes in the way that he can -- >> the irony comes in a way that by disclosing the sunlight is the best disinfectant so he uses this principle to clear himself up. >> you talked about her saying my husband is a regular guy of which from the vantage point of today sounds like -- i mean was it unusual?
5:48 pm
>> i think, again, one of the things that is really funny about this story is that after the speech occurs, there will be people who are journalists following the campaign and what they start to say is, it's almost like richard nixon is running for president. he is getting people turning out for him and the reason i say that is because this is a vice president. this is not the presidents wife. i think it's, i think it's a peculiar thing that she is so prompt for being a vice presidents wife. i don't think that there is a lot of examples in which -- i mean perhaps there are but there aren't a lot of times that happens. she is important i think mostly again is kind of a prop and anybody who is asking a question about what was the nature of their relationship, i don't think it's very good.
5:49 pm
when he gives up -- she didn't even know he was really going to be potentially chosen and there's a story that she is sitting at a café with her friends watching tv and the announcement comes on and she is just taking a bite out of the sandwich. all of a sudden the food flies out of her mouth. oh my god, my husband is the vice president. i had better get back to the convention hall and figure out what's going on. she runs back and he is woken up. he is asleep and he was told that he has been chosen. he gets into a limousine industry of into the convention and they both approach -- they both go to the podium and there's this moment where he is giving his acceptance wave and she comes up to give him a kiss. he -- at that and just completely ignores her. i don't think it's a good relationship but i do think one of the things that nixon's people knew was, because stephenson looked suspicious, because he was divorced and his
5:50 pm
ex-wife during the campaign is saying i'm going to vote republican, he could eco-she is doing that and there is a question, why does he come off as being elfin are terms used to describe him. nixon's people know that what they should do is get pad out there and keep hammering home that this guy is normal and he likes football, he does all these things that other people do so there is a real concerted effort on the part of his campaign to push her front and center. >> a little off track but could you comment on the evolution of the republican party today and how richard nixon might fit into it and also, can't resist asking your impressions about ohio and the election? >> that is my home state. my wife is guilt tripping me for not being in ohio now and working on the campaign where
5:51 pm
she is doing a lot of work on it right now. it's a good question, it's a great question and one that i think -- often has a historian you are often pressed. tell us what this tells us about today and this is a part of you that says you get a little uncomfortable because it's a very different context. i give that as my forewarning. i personally think that this sort of aggressive cold war foreign-policy that is central to this book, the kind of language rollback liberation, the kind of characterization of the campaign is being wimpy and defensive, i think that is you know the central underlying but suppressed element between obama and romney on foreign-policy. i think romney, you know i read a piece for salon about that debate and one of the things i went back and read was from the
5:52 pm
speech in virginia where he made the most bold statement on foreign-policy. that is a rough speech. people who want to bid for romney should read the speech where he says you know we should be doing much more about keeping more troops in iraq and doing all this sort of stuff and then he's coming back to the notion that obama is reading an apology to her and he doesn't really believe in america. i think that language in 1952 about criticizing the democrats and being wimpy on fighting the fight against communism, there is a direct line. on that i feel very safe. there's also a direct line about the totalitarianism and socialism on the part of task sites within the republican party and the kind of tea party language of today. so i do think there's a lot of kind of similarities that what is remarkable to me is that you now, what is obvious to me is that mitt romney cannot do what
5:53 pm
richard nixon did. he can't retain himself as an ordinary guy. he can go back and say look at my cars and look at my kids in my and my house, it's an ordinary looking house. it's just not going to work so i think the populace thing, if it'd been a different candidate i think the populace thing would be retried by the republicans but they just don't have someone who fits that bill. as far as foreign-policy stuff and the events, you know, it's to a certain extent nixon 1952 redux. oh, ohio. to a certain extent i think there is a gentleman who was staying at my house right now who is i'm surprised is working for the obama campaign. he is knocking on doors and i always ask them when he comes back at 10:00 at night, what are you hearing? he will say over and over again,
5:54 pm
i'm not going to vote for that rich guy. it's the central theme he gets the most. these are targeted voters. it's not people that are most likely but he's hearing it over and over again. my sense in ohio is that it seems very familiar to me and it feels a lot like 2004 but with very -- was not the same scenarios. it feels like there are people who are not satisfied with obama. they are satisfied in part because the auto industry rescue really change things in ohio and they are happy with that. unemployment is much lower in ohio than in other states but they're still discontent with obama and his leadership. but when it comes to really make the jump and vote for romney, that is where he's just not able to do it. i would think of it is as similar to the way kerry talked to people and they said i don't want to warn other like bush and i don't want all this stuff. are you going to vote for kerry?
5:55 pm
i think there is some similarity to that. i don't know, i mean you know what i hear is what you hear. is seems to be that obama is held as pretty significant, not significant but a solid long-term lead over romney and romney will never fail to close the gap in my sense on the ground is that strikes me that the polls are probably right. but no predictions. no predictions. >> kevin, i want to take you back to -- i want to take you back to the discussion about foreign-policy and the republican party. because, in the 52 campaign, george marshall was under tremendous attack and we think of george marshall really as a heroic figure and i think a lot of people thought at the time as
5:56 pm
well, or harry truman did, and eisenhower did not defend marshall when mccarthy is hacked and this is seen as a betrayal. of that tension then amounts when eisenhower makes them early appointments in his administration and he picks some classy people like chip bolin to be ambassador to the soviet union, and the mccarthy crowd fought him. so this seems to still play itself out in different ways and now as you look at the s.t.a.r.t. treaty or arms control which everyone in the military is passionately for, and yet it was very very difficult to squeeze out current republican votes for that. so we still find different ways that this expresses itself and
5:57 pm
they -- may have implications for the next four years on foreign-policy. >> i think so. is pretty bold and aggressive. i don't think it would make the break with the kind of hard right-wing of that party. i think in 1960 you're absolutely right. there are so many stories in this book that i can't do justice. >> that is why the book is so good and i had fun reading it. be one of the best stories that eisenhower finds himself faced with two senators running and he feels very uncomfortable about it. one is mccarthy and one is william jenner republican senator. jenner made mccarthy look like a pipsqueak and he called him a traitor to the country and the
5:58 pm
person that didn't deserve to have any power whatsoever and he was throwing the country out. it was amazing to watch. i've would have hired marshall and he was just completely and absolutely flabbergasted and yet, it comes time for eisenhower to campaign and jenner is right up there pumping his hand and keeps raising eisenhower's hand away that the people. he says i don't know about it but he does it. there's a famous moment that eisenhower has in the speech when he is going to be giving on the train with mccarthy and he had a part that is a pretty explicit attack on mccarthy saying you have gone too far and you shouldn't dishonor an honorable man and that sort of language. his advisers say you have got to take it out. there is no way this is going to work and they try to plate up to him, it feels like you're adding
5:59 pm
something on at the last moment so stylistically it doesn't work but of course we all know that that -- and he doesn't do it and that is the story. i think actually his presidency is different from the camp aimed at during the campaign he is very clearly kind of kowtowing to the right-wing of the party. >> thank you very much. [applause] thank you c-span for being here. thank you kevin mattson for giving us such a wonderful talk and for your questions and for your attendance here. kevin will sign books right here and he is a good talker so you can have a conversation with him and please help us with the chairs if you will. >> thanks a lot.

tv
Book TV
CSPAN December 8, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm EST

Kevin Mattson Education. (2012) 'Just Plain Dick Richard Nixon's Checkards Speech and the Rocking, Shocking Election of 1952.' New. (CC)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Richard Nixon 25, Us 11, Eisenhower 10, Nixon 9, Adlai Stevenson 8, Obama 5, Dwight Eisenhower 5, Whitaker 5, Oregon 4, Pat Nixon 4, Kevin Matson 4, John Wayne 4, Mccarty 4, Dick Nixon 3, Acheson 3, Stevenson 3, Joseph Mccarthy 3, Mccarthy 3, Hollywood 2, Hawaii 2
Network CSPAN
Duration 01:00:00
Scanned in San Francisco, CA, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 91 (627 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 704
Pixel height 480


disc Borrow a DVD of this show
info Stream Only
Uploaded by
TV Archive
on 12/8/2012
Views
91